The phone rings. “Hi, it’s Evelyn from Bazan PR. You’re confirmed to travel to Los Angeles for the Fox SearchLight Pictures junket of Kasi Lemmons’ ‘Black Nativity.’ You’re staying at the L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills. On Saturday is the junket for Malcolm Lee’s ‘The Best Man Holiday.’ I’ll get back to you about your one-on-one to interview the director.”
Hollywood moves fast, but I pack faster! This year, it seems that the industry has taken a deeper interest in films depicting the past struggles of African-Americans and our very bright future.
It’s a bonus that superlative talents like Isaiah Washington (“Blue Caprice”), Idris Elba (“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”), Chadwick Boseman (“42”), Chiwetel Ejioror (“12 Years a Slave”) and Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station,” produced by Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker, who stars in the upcoming holiday family musical “Black Nativity” and who is a front-runner for a second Oscar nod for his role in “Lee Daniels’ the Butler”) are getting such challenging roles and platforms for their abilities.
I am always mindful that film is a business—a big global business—and the box office receipts on Lemmons’ “Black Nativity” and Lee’s “The Best Man Holiday” are going to surprise many industry forecasters, but not me. Even Stevie Wonder can see that these two films will have a strong connection with a wide range of audiences around the globe. It’s also safe to state that both films are well on their way to earning classic film status.
On Nov. 15, “The Best Man Holiday” opens, starring the divine nine: Monica Calhoun, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Regina Hall, Melissa De Sousa, Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Harold Perrineau and Terrence Howard.
On Nov. 28, the musical family holiday must-see “Black Nativity” opens, starring Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige and the incredibly gifted Jacob Latimore.
Based on the Langston Hughes’ play of the same name, “Black Nativity” is equally inspirational and entertaining, a nice early holiday gift from Lemmons. Call it divine intervention or Harlem inspiration, but Lemmons’ created a new family classic that will have wide nonsecular appeal while still being enthusiastically embraced by the faith-based community.
The feel-good musical stresses the importance of faith, the value of family and the healing power of forgiveness. The journey is told from the point of view of young Langston (Latimore), who’s sent to spend the holiday season in Harlem with his grandparents, who he has never met.
The strange estrangement between his mother (Hudson) and his grandparents (Whitaker and Bassett, playing a charismatic minister and his elegant “first lady of the church,” respectively) is the big, pink elephant strutting around the room.
In this well-weaved narrative, Langston’s feelings of isolation and frustration come to a dramatic head. It’s a wake-up call to parents to start acting the part all the time and know that your pride truly goeth before the fall, and that fall, when you have children, won’t just affect you.
Hughes himself said, “I’d rather be a lamppost in Harlem than the governor of Georgia,” and the filmmakers used our lush section of the island beautifully. More on this in the coming weeks.
These films will be music to the studios’ ears, because both of these new classics have soundtracks that make you stop, groove, sing and love. The selection is so great that the songs will be sure to thaw the chilliest of hearts, and I don’t require a crystal ball to know that both films will be on the top of the season’s must-have-gifts list.
“The Best Man Holiday (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” is packed with signature holiday-themed tunes: Blige’s “This Christmas,” Mario’s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Fantasia’s “What Christmas Means to Me,” Jordan Sparks’ “Christmastime to Me” and Emeli Sandé’s take on “Winter Wonderland,” just to name a few.
One of the musical showstoppers is Anthony Hamilton and Marsha Ambrosius’ heartbreaking take on Stevie Wonder’s timeless song “As.”
Lee has a sincere respect for music and understands the emotions it added to “The Best Man Holiday.”
“I love music,” Lee shared. “While I was writing the screenplay, I was listening to Christmas music. A lot of Nat King Cole [and] Marvin Gaye, and many of these songs were written into the movie where we gave them updates. The sound that is created was integral to the story. It’s very much the fabric of the movie.”
The soulful, gospel- and R&B-infused soundtrack for “Black Nativity” is packed with charming musical surprises. It was engineered by the masterful musical hands of Raphael Saadiq and the soul-probing influence of Lemmons. “Kasi stalked me,” Saadiq stated with a Cheshire Cat grin.
“I did stalk him,” Lemmons unabashedly confirmed. “I heard the film’s score in my head while I was writing, and I knew that I needed him, so I got him.”
This soundtrack contains an. interesting detail: Whitaker sings, and he sings well. The song on which he sings is “Be Grateful,” and he holds his own with powerhouse Jennifer Hudson, Luke James and Latimore.
Back to good gossip. I didn’t spend two days in chic Beverly Hills just to return without juicy tidbits. I know which of the “The Best Man Holiday” cast have crushes on each other and how they really spent their downtime in Toronto and what they dished about between setups on set.
I will spill the beans on which actor-couple will be featured in a new film about single mothers and which of the divine nine will appear in upcoming episodes of “Hollywood Husbands.” I know, and I will dish.
Plus, I’ll be spilling the beans on what really happened to Gibson’s film project on the late Martin Luther King Jr. and how he felt when the news broke that Oliver Stone is teaming up with Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx on the King project, which has received a green light.
Finally, I will share why Howard, who plays the irresistible and unpredictable Quentin, was missing in action at the junket. I know, New York, and soon you will too!